Young Communist Dreams of a Job in Corporate China

After enduring a rigorous, yearlong application process, Wu Qiong, 22, was admitted as a member of the Chinese Communist Party. The selection committee responsible for Wu’s university, the Beijing-based China Institute of Defense, Science and Technology, deemed her “morally righteous, loyal to the Communist Party, and a sharp thinker.” Wu was appointed to head the Women's Department of the student union before graduating in 2007. Though she is still a member of the Communist Party, Wu says that politics bore her and she wants to work for a foreign company someday.

“In government, the interpersonal relationships are so important," says Wu. "I don’t think I’m good at that," adding, “At a foreign company, maybe they pay more attention to the abilities of the individual, and everyone speaks English everyday. I like that kind of environment." Wu is now pursuing a masters degree in linguistics, one aim of which is to improve her English, a move that is likely to increase her chances of landing a corporate job.

As of 2007, the Chinese Communist Party claimed a membership of about 73 million. Since its last party congress in 2002, the Party has grown by about six-and-a-half million members, three quarters of whom are under the age of 35, according to the BBC World News. Yet in a time of globalization, members of this new generation of communists are not your Little Red Book-thumping Marxist ideologues of the past.

The party’s character has changed since the "open door" policy initiated by Deng Xiaopeng in 1978. By the mid-1980s, party recruitment placed a new emphasis on technical skills in areas such as engineering and management so as to carry out reforms aimed at modernization. This marked a departure from the Mao years when political loyalty was enough to gain membership. This has meant an increase in both the number of university students and, in recent years, of business people who are admitted to the Party.

In 2002, China's constitution was rewritten, and the party ceased to be referred to as the "vanguard of the proletariat,” a title which traditionally invoked the notion of class struggle. Instead, it’s now said to represent three groups, not only workers and peasants, but the "advanced productive forces, advanced culture and the broad masses of the people."

In Wu’s case, it is not the ideology that drew her to the party, but a sense of history and the honor that comes with membership.

“The heroic role of the party in making China strong since 1949,” was a primary reason for joining, Wu says. “Only the top students are admitted. You must be an example for the other students.”

To become a member of the party, Wu ranked near the top of her class, she attended lectures on the history of the party and demonstrated a knowledge of party politics. The selection committee monitored her behavior for one year. After this period she underwent a self-criticism in which she stated why she believed she was qualified to be a member but identifed areas in which she was lacking. She received the necessary approval from two-thirds of the committee and was admitted.

Party members meet every week for "Party Day" activities. During their little free time, Wu and her fellow students visit CCP historic sites and attend lectures by retired army leaders.

In the past, Party membership has afforded various advantages, including the opportunity to advance to senior positions that offer high salaries in a country that has changed from one of avowed egalitarianism to one with a highly differentiated income scale. Members are also more likely to have access to top-notch education, the chance to travel abroad for government service or foreign study, and to advance their career through informal networking.

According to Wu, however, today Party membership is advantageous mainly for those seeking a job in the public sector. However, in a time when private enterprise brings new job opportunities for China’s brightest young people, party membership may no longer lead directly to a career in public service.

“My parents want me to be a teacher because this job is relatively stable,” says Wu. But she has her own ideas. While it's true “working for a foreign company means you don’t know when you will be fired,” says Wu, “I think [that] life is very colorful. More colorful than being a teacher.”